There was high drama in the celery world this past week. Healthy eating advocate, cookbook author and all around nice person Martha Rose Shulman did what she always does — she penned her New York Times column, Recipes for Health, infusing it with her usual coaxing optimism. Shulman is the mother who never gives up, an endless fount of one-more-chance trying to drag an obesity-ravaged country down a dietary path that includes more greenery than it's willing to admit it needs.
This past week Shulman was pushing celery, the ubiquitous and unpretentious utility aromatic that she had the gall to put center stage and even (gasp) praise. Gawker contributor Mallory Ortberg did what many Gawker contributors do and took offense (or ran out of material) and stretched her dislike into a point by point, not-quite-satirical, fist-pounding tirade, calling Shulman out for “foisting celery recipes on an unsuspecting public.” 12,000 Facebook likes can't be wrong, can they?
We're unapologetically with Shulman on this — and take it one step further by suggesting there are two more ways to enjoy (yes, enjoy) the vivid potency that has made celery the flavoring star of fine cuisine all over the world for centuries. Celeriac, or celery root, is in season and piled on several farm tables at the markets right now and Sabrina Bohn at Shear Rock Farms just introduced the very hard to find European Cutting Celery. Both vegetables smell like they're vying for first place in the aromatic category but will only be around as long as the weather stays cool.
Celeriac — an unfortunate name for a vegetable that already looks like a cramped up knotted ball of sinew — is a Mediterranean native that grows wild throughout the balmier parts of southern Europe. The entire plant is edible both raw and cooked, but the primary target is the root ball. Just underneath the ugly lies the swan — creamy beige flesh that can transform a soup, stock, salad or puree from so-so to woah. It'll take a little effort to get past the skin — we suggest a good knife and a steady hand to cut away the fibrous surface. Select for smaller root balls (four to five inches across) and firm greenery up top. By the way, those green stems are hollow and make surprisingly tasty Bloody Mary straws.
European Cutting Celery is now where celeriac was as recently as five years ago — obscure and largely misunderstood, but evoking curiosity. Unsurprisingly, it's the home gardeners who are leading the way in cutting celery fandom, since it allows them to have homegrown celery flavor without the huge space requirements or hilling and blanching needed for stalk celery. It's a doppelganger for parsley (albeit a gargantuan mutant parsley) but the very potent and peppery celery aroma gives it away. Both leaf and stem flavor soups and stews and it dries exceptionally well, resulting in a potent herb that lasts well beyond its short season. If drying isn't an option, chop and cover with olive oil and freeze into ice cube trays to keep the fresh flavor handy.
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